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City Budget is in its final stretch!

The Mayor and City Councillors are wrapping up budget deliberations this week, with the final vote expected either late Wednesday or Friday morning. While there are still many new spending package votes that you need to encourage your Councillor to be vigilant about, we have already seen some of the Edmonton Chamber’s hard work on this budget translate into concrete action.

In our series of City Budget Bulletins, we have outlined the City’s high levels of staffing, high pay and benefits, unnecessary lines of business, and need for a thorough Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) analysis of operations.

PBB has recently been promoted by a few Councillors, and featured in an Edmonton Journal editorial by Elise Stolte yesterday. While the current Program and Service Review is a good start, as our third Bulletin explained, PBB is the best medium-term approach because it forces the entire organization to better align spending with its core priorities.

There also seems to be a growing recognition that staff levels at the City grew disproportionately over the last decade. In our fifth bulletin we showed that while population grew 28% between 2006 and 2016, staff levels grew 44%: an extra 1586 employees. About a dozen amendments have passed which either avoid hiring new staff, or use attrition to reduce staff levels by not replacing some positions as they retire or quit.

While we won’t see the results of our work highlighting wage increases until union negotiations are over, Council passed an amendment so they now only pay 50% of the cost for parking stalls for the 300 employees who currently get that as a 100% taxable benefit. This alone would save $250,000 annually, and comes closer to reflecting the reality of so many of Edmonton’s workers.

At the Chamber’s urging in our first bulletin, Council has also taken a hard look at the costs of operating recreation centres, struggling with the large operating subsidies that go to our city-run facilities, and worrying about adding to those costs by opening new facilities in places like Lewis Farms. In southeast Calgary, by contrast, they are set to open the “largest YMCA in the world” – beating out the one they opened last year in northwest Calgary. Because they used a third-party operator RFP process at the outset, they were able to build these facilities in partnership with the YMCA, who can run similar programming at similar prices with no operating costs from City taxpayers.

Here is a link to the operating amendments proposed by Council members, which features updates on those that have passed, and the many spending requests which are to be voted on later today and all day tomorrow.

Please look them over and share your thoughts with your Councillor today – whether it is on particular proposals or just to encourage City Council to keep your struggles with property tax increases top of mind as they vote. While there has been some progress with savings amendments, most of the new spending proposals will be voted on later today and tomorrow. Any progress in moving the proposed 10.5% tax hike down will be undone if Council loses sight of how important it is to eliminate that increase.

You can use this portal from our partners at Prosperity Edmonton if you are unsure how to get in touch with the Mayor and your Councillor.

Thank you for adding your voice to ours at this critical juncture for Edmonton’s competitiveness. Your Edmonton Chamber has been a strong and focused advocate throughout this budget process, and that work will not stop with Council’s final vote on this budget.

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